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Summer Reading: My Island Beach


One of our Friends, Robert E. Schwartz, wrote a fiction book about Island Beach State Park. The following is a bit about his experience writing the book, and a short excerpt. If you're interested in reading more from the book, purchase a copy from Barnes and Noble here.  

As I perused some research for my books My Island Beach: A Summer Read, I became aware that the place that we now refer to as Island Beach State Park almost didn’t make it as the preserve that we all cherish.

If Cranberry Inlet had remained open after a major storm, providing access to Toms River as a harbor, the area would likely have become a major shipping hub like New York or Boston.  And, if not for the Great Depression, the Phipps’s families design to create a resort would have likely succeeded. Lastly, the Navy seriously considered using the site for military purposes. Katherine Gray, the Garden Club president from Lavallette lobbied, successfully, to remove the Navy from Island Beach, after the success of Project Bumblebee, the first launch of a rocket ship in the United States.

Katherine Gray was not the only advocate for Island Beach. Francis Freeman, the caretaker for the Phipps’s family who, along with his wife and a retired Coast Guard Captain, founded the Borough of Island Beach. His rules were simple, “Leave things be, don’t trample the sand dunes, don’t pick the flowers and don’t disturb the osprey.” Obviously, a man ahead of his time.

In 1945 the National Monument Committee attempted, but failed, to raise enough money to buy Island Beach for the National Park Service. They did, however, honor Francis Parker Freeman with the following epitaph, “He measured the assets of this borough not in numbers of paved streets, of new cottages or in the number of feet of boardwalks, but in acres of heather and holly, in sand dunes left as god made them, in beach grass holding the drifting sands and offering a haven to numberless birds, rabbits and other wildlife. No jetties, bulkheads or other beach protective devices mar the beautiful shoreline.”

Pete McClain is the individual who reestablished ospreys and peregrines to Island Beach and, in general, took up the cause from Francis Freeman in acting as a guardian and protector of Island Beach State Park. The reestablishment of the ospreys remains one of the most successful endeavors of its type on the eastern seaboard of the United States. Pete was also instrumental in organizing the initiative which resulted in the acquisition of the sedge for the state, and the initiation of pump-out boats at Tice’s Shoal. 

Here is a short excerpt from “My Island Beach”, in way of explanation for the title of the book:

“Katy,” said Grandpa, addressing me, but speaking to both of us. “Do you remember what I said about calling this place ‘My Island Beach’?”

“Yes I do. You called it a ‘small vanity’,” I replied, recalling precisely what he had said.

“It was…it is. But don’t misunderstand,” he cautioned, “It’s not meant to imply ownership. What it implies is responsibility."

“I know,” I responded.

“And I wish more people would refer to this place as ‘My Island Beach’ and take responsibility.”

“Like Francis Freeman and Pete McLain?” I asked.

“Yes,” he replied.